FICTION: Workers of the World

They are getting better about the fears of the future, but it is hard not to believe in progress, or at least to want to. In the future, maybe, but don’t count on it, they will renew themselves, but the move to Spain was very draining. Maybe we will go to Barcelona, says Don Whiskers. Maybe, says Pineapple, it is the place we wanted when living in London but no jobs there. Don Whiskers shows Pineapple the ad. A job teaching high school English near the Barcelona airport to mostly tennis players. Maybe, says Pineapple, but we would only have a month to accomplish everything, it is very hard to rent a flat in Spain. Renting a flat is like a job interview. You have to prove everything, dress to impress, spray the right spray to infiltrate and convince the nose of the landlords. It is tough going. Don Whiskers applies for the job online. You never know, he says, maybe it is worth having a steady paycheque, and more importantly living closer to nature, including the sea. We are getting older, says Pineapple, I don’t want to keep living in big cities. Yes, says Don Whiskers, more stress now but something better later. But there is always something better, around the corner, lately, for Don Whiskers, and also Pineapple, but also the fear of something worse. When they arrive home Don Whiskers chops the veggies and prepares the pesto. Some organic pasta tubes boiled and stirred into the big pot. It feels better to eat healthy. Soon the summer will come and they eat many salads.

When the weekend arrives they make an effort to practice active rest. Below their balcony, the joyful sounds of spring, the sun making brief appearances, the asses of men and women, the many gaits of people. They refuel at the Sicilian below them, tostadas and cappuccinos, the woman co-owner, blond and middle aged and full of smiles, speaks fluent English, the man co-owner, her husband or partner, with very good posture, also very friendly, speaks to Pineapple in slow Spanish daily. One day, in a rush to work, Pineapple dropped a coin into her coffee and the male co-owner said it was lucky. He always talks to her, and also Don Whiskers, since they live above and pass by at least twice a day. The cafe is pastel green, very colourful, a good start to the day. Maybe, if we move to Barcelona, everything will be more colourful, says Pineapple. That’s what we thought about Madrid after London, says Don Whiskers. Everything is about comparisons, it depends where you are looking. They walk to their favourite local, Cazorla, with the best tapas, and the friendly waitresses from Bulgaria, who is especially friendly with Pineapple, they get double free tapas, it is worth standing with the crowds and using your elbows. Today it is fried fish, a special salad with many onions and olives and tomatoes swimming in olive oil and also green salty peppers and bits of sausage. All for free with two small beers. Then they walk past the Chinese, over the bridge past the death ring, to practice active rest, even though they are sluggish after the food and beer. The cerveza, only a cana, is draining them, but maybe if they keep walking it will disappear through their sweatholes. They keep walking down the busy street and thick crowds and reach El Retiro, finally some nature, says Pineapple. Maybe we will see the peacocks. They both agree on the peacocks, a mysterious creature. Am I walking straight, asks Pineapple. Don Whiskers walks behind to check the posture. A little crooked, he says, you are leaning to the right. Pineapple tries to walk straighter. Am I am walking straight, asks Don Whiskers, a little crooked, says Pineapple, you are leaning to the left. They walk through El Retiro and work on their postures, while also keeping an eye out for various runners and recreational vehicles. I wish we could go deeper, says Pineapple, more into nature, this is a big tease. They keep walking and find something quieter, away from the parades of human fashionistas and fitness champions. Pineapple, says Don Whiskers, you are straight legged on the right. She tries to bend more. Don Whiskers slumps too often, tries to remember to puff his chest, letting in the energy. Are we going to make the appointment, asks Don Whiskers, who is often concerned with time. Plenty of time, says Pineapple, I haven’t heard from Manu and Magda, they are picking out their wedding ring, could take a while. It’s been so long, says Pineapple, I think I will order the pierogi. But also zurek. She is missing the comfort food of her country. Don Whiskers agrees. He can eat anything Polish. They are feeling the hankering, no Polish food since Christmas, pierogi, maybe Gołąbki, definitely żurek, but not in the bread bowl, and maybe some Polish groceries, if they have any, says Pineapple.

There are never enough Polish pickles, says Pineapple, pointing to the Polish pickles. They eat many Polish pickles and in addition converse with the salt of the earth. It is a comfortable place, cosy, and when Magda arrives she tells the story of how she met Pineapple, the only two Poles in the government subsidised Spanish class, and how it is good to sometimes speak your mother tongue. Pineapple has been speaking her second tongue, English, for so long she sometimes forgets the words in Polish, and Polish, since it is still living, is changing without her. Don Whiskers refound his mother tongue after speaking broken Konglish, Ponglish, and many others besides. When he moved to London in 2008 the shopkeepers thought he was Norwegian and in Turkey they thought he was German. Magda and Manu met in Scotland, they speak Polish and Spanish and use their third tongue, English, and now they are in Madrid, living in Manu’s family home near Goya, kind patient and gentle, easy-going with positive energies, building a nomadic friendship, warm food and Amstels, everything from the Polish restaurant like Magda and Pineapple’s Polish mothers, or almost, but not quite, the żurek brings great comforts, do you miss any foods from your home countries, not really says Don Whiskers, I love many. Poland another home, comfortable, the place he visits most often to see Pineapple’s family.

Magda, Pineapple, Manu, and Don Whiskers walk through Retiro park after the Polish feast, have you seen the peacocks asks Magda. Pineapple has been searching for peacocks in Madrid, a more colourful life, and their alien mating cry, yes peacocks. Manu leads them, there are so many peacocks, stricken by beauty and oddity, the females drab and the males psychedelic, trying to woo the females with their beauty, everyone is falling in love with peacocks, especially the colourful feminine males. Don Whiskers feels the hope, more mixing, less straight boxes, all the variations of desire, you can watch peacocks forever. We are all animals, human chameleons, the sperm dust tickles their eyeballs, keep walking. At O’Donnell they stop for coffees, the cafe faux fancy, four tap waters says Magda, no says the waitress, shaking her gold hoops, they can only have one tap water to share between the four of them, it is fancy cafe, the waitress turns her nose. They have to buy the water in designer plastics, so much in Madrid focused on outside appearances, tap water is lower class, and also cheap. Manu and Don Whiskers discuss Atheltico and also Liverpool, so long ago the scarfs and posters of Ian Rush, the childhood idols, now Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, his family, in Northern Ireland and also England, mostly support Liverpool, forever and ever, so many Irish in Liverpool. Manu likes the NBA and basketball, Don Whiskers only remembers the Jazz from when he lived in Utah, Stockton and Malone and the great Michael Jordon in the finals, and before that UNLV with the coach that chewed on towels, so long ago and now here again, in the memories, a different person, Manu forever loving Athletico, his childhood team. Liverpool currently in the semi finals against Roma, 5-2, they will face Real Madrid (booo) or Bayern Munich in the finals.

They drink their coffees, Magda has red wine, and then they walk back down the crowded streets, at Goya they bid farewell, make grand plans for weekend getaways together, the nearby desert mountains, also northern, Basque and Asturian and Galician, a very different part of the country. It is almost May 2018, a Saturday, no work on Tuesday for worker’s day, Wednesday a Madrid holiday, Monday is a puente, a great invention of the Spanish, a three day break, much needed. Pineapple and Don Whiskers will stay in Madrid to save money, Magda to Poland, when she returns she will work a temporary English teaching gig, Pineapple also teaching, Don Whiskers a few classes for a few weeks and then nada, unemployment till September, the CIS private college likes to maximise profits as the second most expensive educational school in Spain, forget about the labourers slash teachers, prioritise the staff and administrative paper pushers, no security. Don Whiskers is under the limit for filing taxes, probably a small return, but how will they survive the summer? 44 and so many years of working with no retirement or any kind of security. Who has it? The weather was warm and now it is dipping for the May break, in the mountains nearby rain and snow, the inconstant weather, what can we hold onto, nothing is forever.

It is May 1st 2018, international worker’s day, the sun is slowly returning through patches, the fluffy Jesus clouds drifting as Yo-Yo Ma plays Bach melodies on YouTube. Don Whiskers has a hard time with the classical, but in small doses OK, there is beauty even among the higher classes. The flat swept and mopped, and also the balcony, the dust accumulates quickly. Do you want to check for tiramisu asks Pineapple, downstairs is open. Downstairs everyone has found a patch of sun with cañas, even though it is only 12 degrees, the Sicilian cafe is buzzing, the blond woman knows them and also the tall skinny man, she pulls out a big homemade tray of tiramisu, it is a large portion, 3 euros. Don Whiskers orders one to go, takes the lift to the fifth floor, places the tiramisu on their small two seater Ikea wooden table. They divide it equally. A special treat for international worker’s day, in the evening rice and left-over Chinese.

Marcus Slease is a (mostly) absurdist, surrealist and fabulist writer from Portadown, N. Ireland. He is the author of The Green Monk, The Spirit of the Bathtub, Play Yr Kardz Right,  and Rides, among others. His poetry has been translated into Danish and Polish, published in Tin House, Poetry, and Fence, and featured in the Best British Poetry series. He has performed his work at various festivals and events in Prague, Madrid, London, Bristol, Manchester, North Carolina and Ireland. He has made his home in such places as Turkey, Poland, Italy, South Korea, the United States, Spain, and the United Kingdom – experiences that inform his nomadic surrealist writing. Currently, he lives in Castelldefels, Spain and teaches high school literature in Barcelona. He is working on a trilogy of nomadic surrealist novels entitled. Find out more on his website: Never Mind the Beasts

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